It was on this date (September 5, 1877), 139 years ago that the Lakota war chief Crazy Horse was killed at Camp Robinson, Nebraska. And while the blade of a soldier’s bayonet is what killed the Lakota leader, many believe that jealousy and the backdoor politics of his fellow Lakota did more to contribute to his death than the actual blade of a knife.
On the morning of his last day on earth, Crazy Horse awoke in a borrowed tipi in the camp of his friend Touch the Clouds. The towering Miniconjou Lakota leader offered Crazy Horse the lodge for him and his sick wife, Black Shawl, after they had fled to his village the previous day when the Army had dispatched nearly a thousand soldiers and Lakota warriors to arrest him. The Lakota leader decided to make a run for the Spotted Tail Agency where his friend Touch the Clouds was camped in hopes that he could clear up his troubles with the Army and ultimately transfer there from the Red Cloud Agency.
Crazy Horse’s relations with the Army had slowly deteriorated over the summer of 1877. The Lakota leader had surrendered back on May 6 with some 900 followers. It was his understanding that he would be provided his own agency (reservation) back in his homeland of the Powder River Country, as he had been promised this as a bargain of his surrender. But the Army seemed to be dragging their feet on giving him an agency, while at the same time pressuring Crazy Horse to go see the Great Father – the President the white’s called him – in Washington. Crazy Horse refused to meet with the Great Father until he got his agency. This caused tension between himself and the soldier chiefs at Camp Robinson.
After defeating George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June of 1876, Crazy Horse was held in high esteem by his fellow Lakota, and this made many of the Lakota leaders jealous. Red Cloud, in particular, did not care for the favorable attention showered on Crazy Horse by the Army. There was also a rumor that Crazy Horse would be made leader of all of the Lakota when he went to see the Great Father, and this, too, did not sit well with Red Cloud. Eventually, many of the reservation Indian leaders, Red Cloud among them, convinced the Army that Crazy Horse could not be trusted.
When told by a Lakota Indian named Woman Dress – who was also an ally of Red Cloud – that Crazy Horse planned to kill General George Crook at a council, the Army sent out a party to arrest Crazy Horse, sending him absconding to the camp of Touch the Clouds.
When Touch the Clouds found the Lakota war chief in his camp, the Miniconjou leader, fearful that the U.S. Army would seek retribution for harboring a fugitive, took Crazy Horse to see the Indian Agent James Irwin at the Spotted Tail Agency. Irwin convinced Crazy Horse that if he wanted to clear up his problems with the Army, he must go the next day to Camp Robinson and talk with the soldier chief there, Colonel Luther Bradley. So, the next morning Crazy Horse started out on the 40-mile journey with about a dozen warriors loyal to the Army, along with Touch the Clouds and Irwin. But as they drew closer and closer to Camp Robinson, Crazy Horse noticed that more and more Indians were joining the escort. Eventually, Crazy Horse understood that he was not going to Camp Robinson voluntarily–he was a prisoner.
Once Crazy Horse finally arrived at Camp Robinson around dusk, Colonel Bradley refused to see him and also ordered Irwin (who had promised Crazy Horse that he would be able to talk to Bradley) to put the Lakota leader in the guardhouse. The Army had already made plans to ship him out the next day to a prison on an island of the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.
Upon realizing where they were taking him, Crazy Horse made an effort to escape. Little Big Man, his former friend, was holding him, and the Lakota war chief slashed Little Big Man’s arm with a knife he had concealed. When the Lakota war chief attempted to tear himself free from others who were trying to grab him, he fell onto the bayonet of a soldier who was near the door guarding the jail. The soldier followed with another thrust of his own. Crazy Horse’s lung and kidney both were pierced, and he was bleeding internally.
He would eventually die just before midnight. The Lakota’s greatest warrior ever was dead at 36 years old.